Getting Your Workforce to Buy In to Digital Transformation

July 15, 2020
In the episode of Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce, Amanda Del Buono is talking about how to bridge the gap from lackluster to buy-in when it comes to digital transformation on the plant floor.

Digitalization is reliant on a workforce that's willing to accept the change. To discuss how manufacturers can bridge that gap, Amanda Del Buono interviews Jonathon Hensley, founder and CEO of Emerge Interactive, a company that assists organizations in achieving digital transformation.

Learn more about Jonathon’s new book, “Alignment” at

Listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below. 


Amanda: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of "Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce." I'm Amanda Del Buono. Digital transformation has been a buzzword throughout the industry for a while now, but for many, the coronavirus his lit a fire for change. But change is never easy, as we all know, and digitalization is reliant on a workforce that's willing to accept the change. Here to discuss how manufacturers can bridge that gap is Jonathon Hensley, founder and CEO of Emerge Interactive, a company that assists organizations in achieving digital transformation. Thanks for being here today, Jonathon.

Jonathon: Thank you so much for having me, Amanda.

Amanda: So, you know, there's a lot that can be discussed around digital transformation, but especially now with the coronavirus pandemic, more manufacturers, we've heard, are considering that they may need to have some remote technology more available, and socially distant operations. I'm curious how digital transformation will impact the workforce. Seems to me that in the challenging times we're in, it's a benefit, but are there other benefits, besides remote work, that people maybe are looking past right now?

Jonathon: Yeah, there's a couple of key areas that we hear people really exploring right now across all industries, but especially in manufacturing. You know, one is how do we leverage technology to empower our employees. So, really thinking about the employee experience, how we think about not just people that might need to work remotely but how do we think about bringing those key people back into our facilities in a safe way, and really how do we support them in knowing that not only do they have a safe work environment but they can trust and interact with facilities, the equipment, the people, the processes, and systems that they need to effectively with all of the change that's taking place.

The other big area is how do you engage your customers in this space. A lot of organizations are used to working with modern-day technologies, and teleconferencing, and so forth, but the ability to demo, or get on-site, or changing the way that we interact and engage with our clientele... Maybe you've been selling through some sort of reseller or distribution and partner network versus going direct. How do you start to bridge some of that collaboration that might have to take place in developing solutions with your customers or potentially in achieving support in the overall manufacturing supply chain with the customer and what kind of transparency and engagement do you want to look at.

And then, the other big one that we see a lot right now is really transforming the very products and things that they offer. So, this might be embedded technologies, extensions of Internet of Things, using mobile applications to add more value to existing products or services. This can also encompass things like providing more self-service. How do we deliver solutions to our clients and then support themselves by providing better information, better interaction, and engagement?

And these things all fundamentally impact the business model of an organization, and I think are really important considerations, not just during the time of a pandemic but especially as an organization looks at change and modernization for long-term relevance.

Amanda: Right. It's interesting. From the business side, there's so many other benefits for it if you're running an operation that I think we don't talk about as much, you know, especially right now, like you had mentioned, the new products. And, obviously, throughout the years, we've noticed an increase in Software-as-a-Service offerings and things like that from vendors. Do you see that as a growing trend in helping with the pandemic, or is that just more of a supply-demand kind of thing?

Jonathon: I think it goes both ways. I think it's been there for a while, it's not necessarily new. I think just the current environment with the pandemic has accelerated the urgency for many organizations, as well as really those that have been kind of late to adopt some of the new modern opportunities and ways of engaging with customers or supporting employees. It is a significant undertaking to make some of these investments and changes, and they have a pretty low success rate as a whole, statistically, because there's not a lot of people experienced in leading this kind of change.

So, you know, it's been risky business for some who have are just maintaining stability, and, in some cases, a thin margin that's based on volume has been really important to support continuity, and not just employees but the communities that these organizations call home. So, there's a lot to consider, for sure. I think, right now, what we're seeing is, with the overall situation, both here and around the world, that the necessity, though, to modernize and the expectations of consumers at all levels are rapidly being pushed to the forefront where organizations, in order to maintain relevance, in order to actually be able to effectively operate, need to embrace some of these modernizations.

I think a really simple example that we see a lot of is where a website, for many organizations, is thought of as more of a brochure, it's just a marketing tool. Well, that website actually becomes a product itself when it becomes essential to the product or services that you deliver. And so, the way that you think about it, the way you manage it, the way that you deliver it—that is transformational in itself to an organization. Once you start treating it like that, you unlock a lot of potential and opportunity. And many organizations' current presence, which you could argue is now the front door to their organization, is grossly underperforming.

Amanda: Well, I guess, as we're talking about these new technologies, well, as you just mentioned, not necessarily new, but, you know, bringing these into a facility, one of the things about humanity that's always interesting to me is our resistance to change. And I think we see with technology, I mean, that happens when new technologies come out in the consumer world too, right? People don't necessarily buy into that. For an organization that's trying to, especially right now, get some digital transformation in place quickly, what suggestions do you have for getting their teams to buy into this? Because I think, with any kind of new technology anywhere you have to have the people running it bought in, right? So, when you're trying to push this through quickly, what do you suggest for helping your team get comfortable with it and buying into this new change in what could have been a less digitally-savvy environment?

Jonathon: Sure. Well, I think there's a couple of really important things that have to happen at all levels of the organization. The first is the importance of clarity. Clarity becomes mission-critical for every level of the organization and really being able to embrace change and understanding why it's important. And that has to come up from leadership. Leadership has to understand, "Here's our current state of our organization. Here's where we want to be. And we have a clear destination and vision of what that looks like.” And the next step in that is to make this change, to do these things as an organization.

Once you have that, you can go deeper, you can start to work on one of the most fundamentally important things, which is alignment. And you can help every employee at an individual level understand the importance of that change and how their contribution will make a difference to helping the organization get to that goal and achieve that strategy. That becomes really important, that's empowerment. That empowerment allows people to start to embrace change, and that clarity gives them a path to purpose to understanding what that change and successful change will look like. And that really helps people start to overcome some of the fears and anxieties that come with change. So, we need to start there.

Secondarily, we really need to look at team alignment and how do we bring the right skills, disciplines and cross-functional teams together to work on this change. A lot of times, change is started with an idea, and that idea ends up getting kind of siloed within a project team, and digital transformation really requires us to break down the silos. We have to look at, are we modernizing our customer experience, are we transforming our operation? If so, what are all the interdependent functions of our business, and how do we effectively collaborate together through that change? And that's usually pretty loosely defined.

More often than not, it's, "Oh, well, our team will figure it out. They're great people. They have the skills and knowledge, or they'll go get the knowledge that they need to make this thing happen." And it's true, the people are fantastic, but if they don't have that bigger strategy and that really clear understanding of what the objectives are, you get a lot of rework, and a lot of false starts, and things where you're just not making progress, and you feel like you're failing because you're not making that progress. And organizational leaders really need to take responsibility to champion that change and address those gaps that are missing that lead to product failure and transformational failure. 

To read the complete transcript, visit: Advice for gaining buy-in to digital transformation

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